Finding the time, energy, and confidence to create

This is a photo of my mom from the early 1950s on the street she grew up, in the Lower East Side of New York City:


I have dozens of images from this period of her life, most of them out on the streets, which was filled with families, kids, strollers, stores, and a thriving neighborhood. That was the 1940s and 1950s.

But I know the neighborhood went through dramatic change in the decades that followed. I’m the family historian, and have been endlessly researching where she grew up. Recently, I came across this photo of the same exact block from the opposite angle, but from the 1980s:


(photo by Peter Bennett) He took another shot just a moment later:


The change to that block is surreal. All the buildings across the street from my mom in that photo are gone, replaced by piles of dirt and garbage. Much of that area of the city looked bombed out by the 1980s. Many abandoned buildings, all in disrepair, and stories of landlords burning down their own buildings for the insurance money.

I belong to some Facebook groups that talk about this era, and people share story after story of what it was like living in or visiting this area in the 1980s. In short: it was very dangerous. Most of the buildings on my mom’s block were destroyed by the 1980s, including the one she grew up in. In the 90s, the city replaced them with some low-rise housing units which are still there.

As I look through the photos from my mom’s childhood, I try to imagine what it must have been like. Her parents, her and her sister lived in a three room apartment, all four of them sharing a single bedroom. The bathtub was in the kitchen, and the bathroom was in the hallway.

My grandfather worked one job his entire life, at a local bakery. He started as a slicer in the back, and eventually got his own delivery route. One day in 1965, while delivering bread, another driver ran a stop sign hitting my grandfather’s delivery truck. The large side door to his truck was open, and he was thrown from the vehicle, killing him. Here he is slicing bread at work in the early 1950s, just a few blocks from the street in the photos above:


This time of year, I consider what I seek to create, the milestones that matter to me, and the experiences I hope to fill my days. I won’t lie, I tend to think about my mortality, the years behind me, and the years ahead. I think about my grandfather, who I never had a chance to meet, and the dreams he had as he sliced bread for long hours. I think about how that street my mom grew up on changed, and how time marches on. This encourages me to be proactive in attending to my creative work and to filling my life with the experiences that matter most.

Working with writers, I am fortunate to be immersed in the dreams of those who create, and who want to ensure that their voice is heard. That may be a story, a poem, a way to help or educate others, or so many other things. These writers are often confronted with the challenges of identifying what to create, how they will find the time, how they can muster the energy amidst so many responsibilities, and whether others will take them seriously.

To answer these questions, one of the systems I use is Clarity Cards, which is what I’m teaching a workshop on today. You can download the entire process here if you want to work through the system yourself. I have taken hundreds of people through this process, and the results are powerful.